Virginia is for lovers—of age discrimination (Opinion)

Earlier this month, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam signed into law a bill that will prevent anyone under the age of 21 from buying tobacco and nicotine products, like chewing tobacco and vapes, after July 1 of this year. While no one is “grandfathered” in, active duty military personnel can still purchase at 18, as the law had previously allowed since 1991, when it was raised from 16.

But while many in Washington and even many of the major companies that produce these products have lauded the bill as a way to keep tobacco and nicotine out of the hands of high school students, one demographic has been overlooked entirely: 18, 19, and 20-year-olds.

These are some of the most educated and diverse members of our society. They are productive: learning, working, preparing to start (or already starting) families. They’re finally able to spend their own money and contribute to our growing economy. They can vote, own guns, and sign onto hundreds of thousands of dollars in loans that will leave them in debt for much of their adult lives.

But they can’t have a cigarette.

They can buy houses and cars, cover their bodies in tattoos and piercings, and serve on a jury to put someone behind bars for life.

But they can’t vape.

Moreover, many 18-to-20-year-olds have spouses, children, and families to care for. At 20, I was married with a house, a dog, a bachelor’s degree, and a full-time job that supported my family more than comfortably.

What more can you want?

These are sentiments that have been expressed by many 18-to-20-year-old Virginians, but they’ve been largely swept under the rug. Many tell them that they’re “too immature to understand,” or worse, others share anecdotes from their own lives to argue that young people shouldn’t be able to make their own decisions: “When I was 19, I was smoking dope and drinking all night, every night!”

Why do today’s young adults need to suffer for your stupidity?

Unfortunately, there’s nothing the 18, 19, and 20-year-olds can say in response to these arguments, because they always end up back at square one: “You’re just too young to understand.”

But they aren’t. They aren’t too young to understand what they’re doing to their bodies, for better or worse. They aren’t too young to make their own life decisions. And they aren’t too young to see that every several years, yet another right is taken away from their age group for no reason other than that people who aren’t in that age group insisted on it.

This law doesn’t affect me, but it affects thousands of people whose opinions have been thrown to the wayside, and who haven’t been given straight answers on how this will work logistically.

When are we going to start treating adults like adults?

Age discrimination is illegal, but that doesn’t appear to apply until Virginians hit their late 20s. At 19, my then-fiancé and I were told (at check-in, four hours from home, for a single-night stay that was planned months in advance) that we couldn’t sleep in a hotel without someone over 21 with us—in Virginia, our home state, where the minimum age to rent a hotel room is 18—because they “didn’t know what we’d be doing behind closed doors.” (Um, none of your business?)

Indeed, ever tried to take a family vacation under the age of 25? Good luck finding a rental car or beach house for you, your spouse, and your children.

People under the age of 25 (or 21) are more reckless and destructive, you say? Try making that statement again, but replace “people under the age of 25” with any other demographic-defining term: people who are white, people who are Asian, people who are gay, etc.

That’s undoubtedly discrimination. And yet, Republicans and Democrats alike seem to be all for it.

Indeed, Dems want to legalize marijuana and allow extreme late-term abortion. But they want to stop 20-year-olds from…vaping?

Meanwhile, Republicans have hammered the notion that family is key, and that the decline of the family unit has contributed to America’s descent from greatness. But instead of encouraging our youth to get an education, get married, and start their adult lives—and move out of their parents’ homes—the Virginia GOP has contributed to taking privileges away from their young adult constituents. (What a great way to encourage young people to vote red—NOT.)

Simply put, I’m appalled that a law that clearly discriminates based on age has had such widespread bipartisan support. But the young Virginians who have been robbed of their freedoms will won’t forget this come election time. And those who support them, like myself, won’t either.

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Hey there! I'm Michelle—but my friends call me Shelly. I'm a freelance writer and editor who blogs about life, work, and the world around us. Thanks for stopping by!

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